The Times We’re Given
I was sitting in a movie theater in Budapest, Hungary, with my husband and our two sons, one a young adult, one a teenager. We were watching “The Fellowship of the Ring.” I had already read the whole trilogy some time before, thus I should have been prepared for the exchange between Frodo and Gandalf: “‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
I burst into tears. More accurately—I sobbed. We sat there long after the sequence ended and the rest of the moviegoers filtered out of the theater. We were waiting for me to get control.
This was not Middle Earth, with the dark eye of Sauron searching us out to destroy. This was not World War II, the backdrop for Tolkien’s long labor over the writing of The Lord of the Rings. This was years before the current pestilence stalked the world.
This was “peace time.”
I was living a comfortable, fairly predictable life. I had the satisfaction of having some of our children and friends near me. I had purpose and meaning that filled my days.
But all was not well with the times.
We do not have to be social critics to discern that the times are troubled. A mere week of watching the evening news tells us that strident factions split apart every strata of society: marriages, parent-child relationships, neighborhoods, cities, countries, world powers.
How do we live in peace time when the times are not peaceful?
If we chance to mourn out loud, responses come back: “Times have always been bad. We just have more information now.” Or: “Get on with your life. You can’t change the world.”
I peruse magazines. A smattering of them send me messages such as: “Simplify your life.” “Be kind to yourself.” “Get enough sleep.” “Discover slow food.”
If I busy myself about my own little life and ignore the times, will that help me live them?
Factions have always existed, in all the categories. But there is something else going on.
A proverb gives the caution: “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.”
The difference in our times and the times that have gone before us is that the ancient boundaries are being moved, even demolished. In the space of one more generation, it may be that the ancient boundaries will be unrecognizable. They are being demolished in the name of “freedom,” so-called. Freedom from whatever we deem to be boundaries set up against our personal inclinations and desires. Such freedoms “are us.”
Which is why Gandalf’s words hit me so hard and so overwhelmingly.
Had we prepared our children for these unrestrained times? Had we even foreseen them? How were we living them ourselves?
Two recent conversations continue to baffle me. A university professor, teaching an online writing seminar, bemoaned the fact that her students—yes, university students—do not know the grammar of the English language. She has to teach them basic grammar before she can get on with teaching them principles of writing. Following on the heels of that disturbing news, friends sitting around our table over coffee and dessert, their young daughters beside them, happened to mention that grammar is not even taught in public schools anymore. My jaw dropped. Not taught?
Unsettling as that revelation is—for many reasons—grammar is just an indicator of the demolishing of boundaries.
You have seen it happening for yourself.
All the wishing that “it need not have happened in my time” won’t help me anymore than it helped Frodo. We have to decide what to do with the time—and times—we’re given.
We must examine the “ancient” values and ask: just what is being demolished? What is being built in their place? Is anything worthy being built? Or are we left with so much rubble?
Instead of allowing these unbridled times to swallow us or our values, we scrutinize them to see what is worthy and what is false. We prepare ourselves.
We teach grammar—as well as other things that are being lost—to our children and grandchildren. We help them understand that personal freedom does not mean living without restraints, that proper boundaries involve self-control, that self-control means the ability to defer self-centered pleasure-seeking for greater, worthier, and long-lasting goals. We help them discern: What is worth living for? What is worth dying for?
We teach them the history of noble deeds and noble thought. We tell the stories of true heroes who deserve the epithet. We teach them that a grateful heart is the path to contentment.
Then, we attempt to practice what we teach.
I am watching, as I write, a little chickadee, just hatched out of its nesting box and now sitting precariously on the narrow lintel of an outbuilding just outside my kitchen window. The mother has visited several times, but the little bird appears not to be taking her coaxing—"Come! You can do it! You have to fly!” How simple, I think, this mother’s task. Her other little fledgling has already hopped into the bushes beside the deck, a few steps away. Done. That one’s launched. But wait—the cat is on the deck, apparently sleeping, but you never know about a cat. Perhaps the mother’s task is not over yet. Warning, little one: danger. The mother flits back and forth, hops onto the railing, flies up into the tree, restless, nervous for her baby. How to get it safely into a threatening world?
Such are the times.
Proverb from the Book of Proverbs 22:28